Overcoming stereotypes: Northampton man aims to make independent film about a musician with a disability

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 07-23-2022 7:01 AM

NORTHAMPTON — For the last few years, Jeremy Macomber-Dubs has been advocating for people with disabilities. As someone who uses a wheelchair because he struggles with the effects of brittle bone disease, Macomber-Dubs know it’s a challenge to navigate a world where access for people with mobility issues is often limited at best.

Now Macomber-Dubs, the chairman of Northampton’s Disability Commission, is taking that effort to a new arena. He’s hoping to make an independent movie about a rock guitarist, one using a wheelchair to get around, who gets a shot at the big time — but which might also destroy his friendship with a good friend and fellow musician.

The proposed film, called “Tallywhacker,” is based somewhat on Macomber-Dubs’ own life story, including the fact that he’s played electric guitar for years and has gigged with a number of bands. One of his bands once opened for the Pixies, a group he later befriended, singing backup vocals on one of their albums.

But the larger goal behind the project, he says, is to encourage filmmakers to include more disabled characters in their movies — and to hire actors with disabilities to play them.

“I’m a big fan of movies, and it’s bothered me for years how little representation there is of disabled people,” Macomber-Dubs said during a recent phone call.

A few years ago, after seeing a TV film that had a lone disabled character in it “who was just depressed and sad, as if that was the only way to define him,” he said, Macomber-Dubs poured out his frustrations on Facebook and called on filmmakers to think differently.

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His post caught the attention of Brendan Boogie, a writer, director and producer in Boston (he now lives in Los Angeles) who came to Northampton to meet with Macomber-Dubs and then wrote a script based loosely on his experiences.

Macomber-Dubs and Boogie have now launched a fundraising drive on Seed & Spark, a crowdfunding platform focused on creating more diversity and community in the film world. They’re hoping to raise $30,000 by the end of the day on Aug. 4 to finance “Tallywhacker,” which would be filmed this fall in Northampton.

More information about the project can be found at seedandspark.com/fund/tallywacker#story.

The story is centered on a guitarist and singer, Aelister, who has defied his brittle bone disease to become a rock guitarist, playing with his good friend Emmett, a drummer, in the band Tallywhacker. The two are invited to open a show for a major rock star, Carly Major, a thrill that becomes more complicated when Carly later invites Aelister to tour with her as her new guitarist.

Aleister invites Emmett along for the ride, but where does that leave Tallywhacker, the band that’s meant everything to the two friends?

Their friendship will soon be sorely tested, though since this is a buddy movie, there are also plenty of laughs, Macomber-Dubs says.

“I think Brendan’s script is incredible,” he said. “He really understood the issues I was talking about … he wrote scenes about things that had happened to me that I hadn’t even told him about. He just intuitively understood so much.”

Chris Goodwin, a drummer and actor based in the Boston area, plays Emmett in the film, and Macomber-Dubs says the two of them have bonded quite well, musically and socially, since they met earlier this year to film a few quick scenes for a promotional clip for the film’s fundraising campaign. “Tallywhacker” will also include a few other characters, Macomber-Dubs said.

In that promotional clip, Boogie says, “When I first met Jeremy and heard his story, I said ‘This has to be a movie.’ This guy is a badass. It was amazing. [And] when Jeremy and Chris were in a room together, they were a band. They became Tallywhacker right in front of my eyes.”

Over the last several years, Macomber-Dubs has fronted the Valley progressive rock band Bunnies, which aside from gigging in area venues has made a number of appearances at the annual Performance (formerly called Transperformance) summer concert at Look Park, where area bands impersonate notable groups. Next month, Bunnies will return to Look Park, Macomber-Dubs says, to take on the persona of They Might Be Giants in Performance 32.

He’s hoping his own experience as a musician — and a movie about that — can help show that people with disabilities don’t have to be defined by them.

“This isn’t a movie Hollywood will make, so we’re gonna do it ourselves.” he said.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.]]>